Society diversity

Access to diversity program: helping candidates integrate the company

Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce knows something about the struggle that comes with entering the legal profession. Returning to the UK as a teenager after several years in the US, she wanted to be a lawyer but had no contacts in the profession to make it easier for her.

“As President, I focus on social mobility and enabling people from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds to enter the profession and I speak from a personal perspective. I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t achieve your dreams,” she says.

Appointed president in March 2020 and the first person of color to hold the position, Boyce has a keen interest in the Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme (DAS). Launched in 2004 to support aspiring lawyers from disadvantaged backgrounds who cannot afford to qualify, the DAS began by funding 10 places for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and providing mentors and work experience to the winners.

To date, DAS has helped over 250 aspiring lawyers qualify and this year, with more funding, 15 awards have been offered. As of September 1, 2021, the funded first place for the Barrister Qualifying Examination (SQE) has been included. “We know that this program has transformed people’s lives, not only through the funding, but also through the one-on-one support it provides,” says Boyce.

90% of scholarship recipients come from public schools, although the 10% who attended private schools often did so on scholarships. 86% come from low-income households.

Boyce says she is often struck by the number of individual paths taken to enter the profession. Fahmida Chowdhury, 28, did not speak English before going to school. “I had a leadership role in the family from the beginning, as I was translating documents for my parents who had come from Bangladesh,” she says.

Studying economics at school, she realized she was drawn to analytical thinking and moving on to study law at the University of Bristol was a natural progression. “I found the lack of diversity on campus difficult, but I loved studying law – the debates, the business, learning how the law developed,” Fahmida recalls.

But after graduating in 2016 with no contacts in the legal profession, she was at sea. Even as a paralegal at Herbert Smith Freehills, she found herself stuck as there was no avenue available to secure a contract of training.

In her next job as a legal assistant in the legal department of Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, she realized that she would like to work in-house as a lawyer. “I loved seeing how business works up close, and you’re more included in those departments. I ran my own business which was a great experience. Unfortunately, there was also no progression to a training contract available there. Looking for LPC scholarships, Fahmida found DAS and was thrilled to get an award. In September 2020, she started her part-time LPC at BPP London.

Abigail Pacey, 27, studied part-time for her LPC with MSc Law Business and Management at Moorgate Law School. After leaving home at 16, Abigail spent time in YMCA accommodation and later developed an eye condition that caused visual impairment.

At 21, thanks to a diploma of access to higher education, she obtained her baccalaureate equivalents then studied law at the University of Westminster while working in an Apple store to earn money. “No one in my family had gone to college and it was a whole new world,” she says.

An internship with AT&T’s legal team sparked her interest in commercial and corporate law, and she earned a master’s degree in medical law. A paralegal position for Marriott’s legal team ended with the pandemic, but later, while working as a paralegal at Bosch, she decided she wanted to be a lawyer.

Although Abigail secured a place for the LPC, she had no way to pay for it until she also found the DAS and won a prize. This led to a short internship at UBS which she relished. “I was exposed to a range of subjects and it gave me great confidence,” she says. A mentor also provided good advice on managing work and studies.

Both Fahmida and Abigail say working and studying have been difficult, but the prize has changed their lives. Fahmida’s mentor, Kate Chapman, managing partner of capital markets at Simmons & Simmons, helped her apply for internships. “Like me, she had struggled to get a training contract. It makes you realize you’re not alone,” she says.

As part of this award, Fahmida completed an internship in the legal department of private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. Within weeks, she was offered a permanent position and intends to qualify for it and be a long-time staff member. “It’s a small team and we do everything. It is a very efficient environment. More and more internal departments are hiring young people and that says a lot about their culture. They are less rigid than law firms and know how to make quick decisions,” she notes.

Yet many more need help: this year there were 277 applications for the 15 awards. “The applicants are of high quality and we would like to see more scholarships available,” says Stephanie Boyce. “We get DAS funding and internships with law firms and companies, as well as internal departments, and we would like to see more involvement internally. The internal community is the fastest growing segment of our membership, now at around 25%. »

Fahmida is now considering undertaking a master’s degree in business law. ” Everything is in order. You have to be tenacious,” she says. Meanwhile, Abigail, who still works as a paralegal at Bosch, hopes to secure an in-house or private practice training contract and would like to work in corporate, business and technology areas. “The recognition that the award has brought has been great. It shows that I can be successful. I can see that all the hard work I’ve put in has resulted in something and that I can have the future I want.”